Only When I Laugh
by Elouise Bell
[p.17]Last month was February. (Actually, it seems as if the last three months were February, but you can take that up with the weatherman.) February always ranked as the most patriotic month of the year during my childhood.
In school, we seemed to spend forever cutting out silhouettes of Lincoln and smearing brown Crayolas over our wobbly drawings of log cabins; no sooner had the library paste dried than it was time for cherry trees, hatchets, and pictures of George Washington with his funny pony tail and grim smile. July couldn’t touch February for patriotism, mainly because we weren’t in school and thus didn’t get so worked up with arts, crafts, and classroom pageantry. And of course, July never got the double dose of attention where I hail from that it receives in Mormon country.
Be all that as it may, I got thinking last month about whether I am really patriotic. And that’s when I decided we need a new word; so I coined one.
Now think about it. “Patriotic,” of course, comes from the Latin pater, meaning father; a patriot is one “who loves and [p.18]loyally or zealously supports his own country” or fatherland. A perfectly good word for a perfectly good feeling. “Matriotic,” by analogy, comes from the Latin mater; a matriot is then one who loves and loyally or zealously supports her motherland, her own planet—Mother Earth.
The two words are not perfectly analogous, fortunately, otherwise people might see conflict of interest where there is none.
Patriotism, as we use the word, is about the flag, and the government, and the history of a nation; in our case, the Bill of Rights, free elections, and the peaceful transfer of power, even after a national trauma like Watergate or the Iran-Contra Affair.
Matriotism, on the other hand, is yin to patriotism’s yang. It’s about the Earth, not the world. It’s about what those fortunate few have seen from spaceship portals, not what we see on a map or a globe with regularly updated borderlines and political color-coding. Matriotism is about one sun by day and one moon by night, a moon that waxes and wanes and marks months and menses whether you live in Moscow, Idaho, or the other Moscow. It’s about what human beings have felt since the dawn of time when they lay on their backs on the ground and looked up at floating clouds or glittering stars.
Patriotism has always had a lot of the zest of competition in it—rival teams, us and them, Britain’s battles being won on the playing fields of Eton, and all that. My country, right or wrong. My country over the other countries.
Matriotism, by contrast, recognizes that while there may be six- or seven-score fatherlands, there is only one mother-land. There are political divisions that have risen, prospered, and utterly vanished, civilizations and great cities that are no more. But while we have her, there is only one Mother Earth. She’s done a little rearranging from time to time, what with volcanoes and earthquakes and such. But last spring I stood on a grassy meadow in England and was informed that the same trees I was seeing, the same boulders, the same stream, had been seen and touched by Anglo-Saxons, by Romans, by Stone Age Brits. Many cultures, patriots of many nations—but one earth. Some call her the Spaceship Earth today.
So it’s not either-or; it’s not a matter of patriotism vs. matriotism. It’s just a matter of bringing our matriotism a little more to the forefront perhaps.
For instance, we could start with a holiday. A matriotic hol-[p.19]iday, a worldwide day of celebration, gratitude, and rededication to the planet. We’d need a flag, of course; there is that Olympic flag with the colored rings, but frankly I can’t get very stirred up about what looks a lot like beer rings on a table surface. But that would do for starters, until we got something better. And we’d need a song-an anthem, really. Wouldn’t it be quite a feeling to have an international anthem (no, not the Internationale) that little kids all over the world would learn to sing about the oceans and the mountains and the sands and the snows of Earth? We could certainly work up a pledge of allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the soil, and to the air we breathe, to every species beneath the sun . . .” Well, you get the idea.
We’d certainly need a Matriots’ Hall of Fame someplace—maybe onboard a ship that would sail from country to country, celebrating the great matriots who fought for Mother Earth, whether by saving the whales and the gorillas and the snail darters, or by engineering new strains of seed that would feed more on less, or by finding the key to practical mass use of solar energy instead of fossil fuels—and so on.
Some people might not get too excited about being matriotic, seeing that it lacks that old competitive edge. On the other hand, remember what Pogo said: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” This fight to save Mother Earth could end up the biggest battle of all.
And besides: just think what first- and second-graders could do in the way of decorations!